If we compared the Charlotte Mason schools of before to modern Charlotte Mason schools, classical schools and to our own homeschools, what would we notice?
It’s really hard to know what those schools of before were like, and so it is hard to feel as if we are replicating it. Should we replicate the Charlotte Mason schools of before? I imagine, and I’m speaking freely for her, that Ms. Mason would expect us to adapt ourselves to her methods and ideas without sacrificing the end goals. And perhaps even some of the end goals would need some altering, because the child at the end of a Charlotte Mason education in times before would have needed to be a different person from the child at the end today. But, we must be very careful, for much of those end goals are just as relevant today as before. We should tread carefully and adjust only as needed.
In modern curricula modeled after Charlotte Mason’s ideas, we see that much emphasis is given to copywork, nature study, artist and composer studies, Shakespeare and living books. In fact, it seems that many of these curricula have modeled themselves only after these components and little else. What do we know about those components that have been left out? Shouldn't we know more about what we are discarding before we actually discard it? Charlotte Mason's ideas, just as is true for many classical approaches, are very interconnected, with one component augmenting several others. For example, studied dictation builds up attention, strengthens oral language to written language connections and improves discrimination skills. These same skills are also attended to with copywork, Plutarch readings, experiments and narrations from challenging books. Expected results from the former curricula models will not be realized when we leave out over half of the components. You can't expect to enjoy the taste of a moist and delicious chocolate cake when you've left out the eggs , salt and baking soda. Maybe those ingredients are not as obvious, such as the sugar and flour or as enticing, such as the cocoa, but you need all of the ingredients to make a cake.
Often in modern articles about Charlotte Mason and modern curricula the idea of keeping the teacher out of the way of what the child can learn directly from the book is pushed forward in the effort to keep teachers and parents from influencing the child’s own original connections with the book with their own. This is a very important idea, but much more is involved with this, and the role of the teacher is very misunderstood. The role of the teacher was a fundamental part of the Charlotte Mason schools of before. Are we asking ourselves to play this role as well as we should be? What principles did those schools illustrate with their teaching?
According to the article “PNEU Principles as Illustrated by Teaching” by Miss Pennethorne, teachers should not only plan or sketch out their lessons, but should plan them based on a set of principles. These principles would allow for the main idea or concept to be best relayed to the students.
Move from Known Knowledge-Unknown Knowledge
Have Illustrations- Since they are Hooks to Fasten Ideas to the Mind
Be Narrated or Recapitulated to Show they Have Been Grasped
Should be Interesting to Promote Self-Activity (Pennethorne 549)
To move from known knowledge to unknown knowledge is to give children a place upon which to connect the new knowledge and moving from simple to complex and concrete to abstract makes the connection possible. Giving a child a new idea that is too abstract or complex for them to understand is to ensure that they will not be able retain it. These first three principles alone show how much forethought is needed in preparing a lesson. The teacher must consider first what the child already knows in relation to the new idea and prepare the lesson so that this known knowledge is reviewed and then the teacher must present the new idea in a simple and concrete manner, laying the foundation necessary to later build upon it in a more complex and abstract way.
After the teacher considers what to present, he/she must then consider how to present it. It should be interesting and illustrations should be available, if possible. Illustrations are not necessarily just pictures or photos, but can also include scientific demonstrations and natural objects. In modern times, this would include computer images, videos and audio.
“The narration at the close will generally show whether the salient idea has been grasped and allows the child to become accustomed to the use of beautiful and measured language” (Pennethorne 549). Again, do not mistake this for a simplistic and boring retelling of the material. Retelling a lesson involves so much more than just reciting what you remember. In science and nature study this shows up in the nature notebook. In history a child should create century charts and keep a Book of Centuries. “Every possible aid should be given to children’s imagination, the ideas given simply and pictures vividly so that the child may make a chart of the century they are studying and fill each square for each year with little pictures of events, etc. to make their own connections” (Pennethorne 549). There are many different varieties of narration and their variety is meant to underscore the ideas that children should be interested, should reveal their own connections and should enjoy the benefits of a teaching approach that is flexible.
PNEU Principles as Illustrated by Teaching
Written by Miss R. A. Pennethorne
The Parents’ Review V 10, 1899, pg. 549